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Sweat and sprinklers: Thoughts on sultry cycling survival

Posted by on July 27th, 2009 at 10:42 am

Hottest Day of the Year Ride

How will you beat the heat?
(Photos © J. Maus)

If you’re out and about on two wheels today, remember to respect the heat. It’s hot out there (as if you didn’t know already) and it can make riding not only uncomfortable, but downright dangerous if you’re not ready for it.

We hear a lot about how the dark, cold, wet winters keep folks from riding, but the other day a friend of mine said showing up at his destination dripping in sweat after a bike ride was almost just as much of a deterrent. (I can relate. Last week I realized after riding home that the back of my shorts had two huge sweat spots on them. I’m O.K. with my bike identity, but I realize how butt sweat might challenge someone’s social self esteem. I thought of sharing a photo but thought better of it (you’re welcome).)

Like the dreaded (for some) helmet hair, sweat is a deal-breaker for some folks. But come on, does it really keep you off the bike?

Hopefully the heat won’t have you grabbing the car keys just crank up the AC because there are definitely some ways to help beat the heat on the bike. Joseph Rose from The Oregonian shared a couple this morning. My favorite among them was to freeze a water bottle.

Tour de Fat 2008-9.jpg

These girls, taking a break at
Salmon Street Fountain, have
the right idea.

If you can, make your bike trips before or after the hottest part of the day (about noon to 6:00). If you can’t avoid being in the heat, swing by and ride through a fountain or water feature at a park. The City of Portland’s Parks department has a full list of places you can get wet on their website.

It’s also worth paying attention to what you wear. I’ve become a true believer in lightweight merino wool lately. It keeps your body dry and cool, and some stuff, like my awesome shirt from Icebreaker (yes, that’s a blatant plug), doesn’t even get smelly (which is great, because I couldn’t afford one for every day of the week)!

Tonight at the Short Track Mountain Bike races out at PIR, event organizer Kris Schamp says he’ll have the sprinklers on full-blast to “give racers some relief from the heat and to add another interesting element to the course.”

If racing a mountain bike in 90-degree heat isn’t your thing, a group of folks will head north for a dip in the Columbia River this evening (the air-conditioned MAX can take you most of the way). Their destination? Ricky Point, a small beach on Hayden Island (more details here).

I hope you beat the heat this week. Stay tuned to the forecast and share your tips and suggestions below. Also, I’d love to know… does fear of sweat keep you off the bike?

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

43 Comments
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    K'Tesh July 27, 2009 at 10:47 am

    Again with the link to recognizing and treating Heat Stroke/Exahustion

    http://bikeportland.org/forum/showthread.php?t=2388

    Stay Cool!

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    Vance Longwell July 27, 2009 at 11:03 am

    Here’s a tip: Your bicycle helmet is useless anyway, and in summer months is only helping hold the heat in. Why not take the opportunity to ride with skill and safety in mind, instead of entrusting a Styrofoam dixie-cup with your life?

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    Meghan H July 27, 2009 at 11:06 am

    Vance:

    How about BOTH riding “with skill and safety in mind” AND wearing a helmet. I don’t think they’re mutually exclusive, at least they are not for me.

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    Bob_M July 27, 2009 at 11:18 am

    Vance #2
    I don’t know if you were being tongue in cheek, (it sounds like you are serious!?) but helmets do work. To disparage their effectiveness is wrong thinking. One can both ride aware and wear a helmet. The vented purpose built bike helmets allow cooling a breeze, however the more hip unvented rock climbing/skateboarding type helmets do not. Riding save is mostly about what is IN the head, but also about what is on the head.

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    Vance Longwell July 27, 2009 at 11:18 am

    Ya, you got me Meghan H. Plus I shouldn’t be joking around. The message here is stay cool, and thereby safe. No joking matter even if your helmet makes you look silly and incompetent.

    By way of recompense I’ll give up my best, “Stay cool when it’s hot…”, tip. McClay park under the Thurman bridge. That’s exclusively for us ‘towner types though, ’cause occasionally one will have to tolerate some orgiastic behavior from the homeless pop. up there.

    Easy ride. Plus, the breeze blowing down out of the park, and across the creek, is very cool! Follow Thurman up, and go down the steps on the eastside of the bridge, or wind through past Monkey park and come in on the bottom side.

    Helmets are tools. Like every tool, they have their uses. Safe, considerate, urban riding, I feel, isn’t one of them. There are other ways to promote a wholesome image.

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    lothar July 27, 2009 at 11:20 am

    Not that I am pro/con helmet wearing, I think Vance may be onto something. It seems
    that body heat is shed mostly through head
    and Styrofoam probably has some kind of R value. I mean they do use it for insulation. Just saying.

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    Jonathan Maus (Editor) July 27, 2009 at 11:25 am

    OK folks, if this thread becomes focused on debate over helmet use… please at least keep it on the topic of how helmets impact heat release.

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    Vance Longwell July 27, 2009 at 11:35 am

    I thought you might say as much J #7.

    “Like the dreaded (for some) helmet hair,…”

    If helmets are not part of the topic, then why are they mentioned, and pictured, in your article? If the topic is heat-relief, pointing out that your helmet might be superfluous, and also a good insulator, is totally relevant.

    I’m sure you’re thinking that your mention of helmets in this article is beside the point. That raises the question then, why mention them? You thought they were important enough to mention, and take pictures of, therefore, so did I.

    As for hijacking your thread, man choose your words Journalist guy. If you wanna play agenda-stealth-games, or worse yet, are oblivious to your bias to the point you can’t even see it, then I feel perfectly justified in my comments.

    Vance, I have no bias for/against helmets. I mentioned it as a simple fact that comes into play for a lot of people who ride. You’re trying to see an agenda where one doesn’t exist. Just as you feel justified in your comments, I also feel justified in moderating them as I see fit. I appreciate your feedback and will take it into consideration. Thanks. — Jonathan

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    Nicky V July 27, 2009 at 11:39 am

    I might add that the tempers of other commuters, regardless of their mode of transportation, can rise proportionately with the temps. Keep smiling people!

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    Joe July 27, 2009 at 11:43 am

    hat sweat can get the non-cyclist all ewww!
    but i just say Im a walking salt lick 🙂

    clean burning machine…

    stay safe all!
    Joe

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  • tonyt
    tonyt July 27, 2009 at 11:49 am

    I would rather ride in sub-zero weather than 100 degree heat anyday.

    I hide from this s*%t.

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    Pasture Ted July 27, 2009 at 11:52 am

    My favorite trick is to soak a cotton shirt

    * Get a cotton shirt, preferably thick, preferably light colored. A light cotton hoodie or other sweatshirt works well. Thin T-shirts are okay, but will dry out a lot faster.
    * Soak it. In the sink or with the hose. Or dunk it in a fountain, whatever is handy. Soak it so it’s dripping all over the place.
    * Put it on and ride. It will be mighty chilly at first, but mighty comfy for the next couple miles.
    * keep rewatering it as needed so it stays *wet*, especially the shoulders and back, not so much the waist or armpits. (try not to re-soak the waist as much, as that will soak into your shorts, where it’s less breezy and less comfortable. If your shorts do get soaked, just stand up while whenever you coast and they’ll dry out pretty quick)
    * change to a dry shirt when you arrive at your destination.
    * the key is to keep your core body temp at a reasonable level so you’re happy and comfy when you arrive and don’t sit there steaming for a half hour.
    * And it keeps fresh water on your skin, not salty sweat. Water evaporates better than sweat and will make you fresher on arrival. And riding won’t dehydrate you.

    variations —
    * figure out how far you have to ride, and only get your shirt partially drenched so it will be about dry when you arrive.
    * if its a thinner cotton shirt, keep rewetting the shoulders.
    * fill your water bottle full of ice, then add water.

    I survived 5 summers in Davis, CA, riding all the time. A t-shirt would completely dry out in about 2 miles. And I’d arrive comfy and cool.
    Pasture Ted

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    Vance Longwell July 27, 2009 at 12:37 pm

    Oh, I found this interview:

    “We should focus on making our roads safer, not on padding ourselves against the dangers our roads create.”

    It’s good to see that you’re big on the Nanny State, instead of mandatory helmet laws foisted on us by, The Nanny State. My bad. I guess your mention of helmets in your article was completely, and utterly, irrelevant. See, I was thinking that you mentioned them for a reason. Which is the excuse for my mistake.

    I’m sort of starting to enjoy being singled out, time and again, for censorship here. It speaks to the accommodating nature of the cycling community. The faces you’all make swallowing your own medicine is priceless.

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    RonC July 27, 2009 at 12:37 pm

    Pasture Ted! Trying to trick unsuspecting young women into riding home in wet t-shirts based on some specious argument/elaborate ‘keeping cool’ justification. Shocking! 😉

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    E July 27, 2009 at 12:57 pm

    On the plus side a helmet helps keep the sun off. For me that more than balances the heat it keeps in. Plus I can stick a few ice cubes in it. 🙂

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    Mr DeJerk July 27, 2009 at 1:18 pm

    I used to care about sweating back in Brazil, where I was the only bike commuter in this fancy restaurant. I cared a little about the prejudice, but that didn’t stop me, specially because I was able to shower before getting in the kitchen. This is something that I think should be incorporated more in his city – locker rooms for office buildings, restaurants, etc. More than bike parking facilities, these would actually encourage many more people to bike to work, during both Summer and Winter.
    As for keeping cool, remember that your blood circulate quickly through your body, and take advantage of that, by cooling the parts that have big arteries more exposed, like your neck, wrists and ankles. A wet/cold towel or scarf around your neck can cool off your entire body.

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    becky July 27, 2009 at 1:55 pm

    I’m going to ride through the Irving Park Fountains on my way home today!

    (Jonathan and others: there are some good deals on icebreaker and other merino undershirts at Sierra Trading Post right now.)

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    Patrick July 27, 2009 at 2:02 pm

    Since when has sweating become such a big deal? I think many people (not just bikers) think that life should be lived without sweat. AC at home, AC in the car, AC in the office and complain about the heat. Go ahead and sweat, take a cool shower in the evening and wash your clothes more often.

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    Opus the Poet July 27, 2009 at 2:20 pm

    You guys think temps in the 90s are hot? HA! and HA! again. I ride all day in temps exceeding 100 degrees in a FULL FACE HELMET! The trick is to keep moving, 100 on the bike and moving feels much better than 100 off the bike and in the shade. second thing is DRINK WATER! Drink lots of water, you need water to sweat, and you need to sweat to stay cool, and if you can put some ice in the water.

    I have ridden the HHH wearing my full face helmet, and survived (obviously) because I paid attention to what my body told me in terms of power output and hydration. BTW for long rides like HHH I make a “sodium test drink” consisting of tea, sugar, and a fair amount of salt, and take a swig every half hour or so. When the drink starts tasting good I get a sports drink with sodium because I’m running low.

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    Lisa G July 27, 2009 at 2:27 pm

    Step 1: Soak a bandana in cold water and wring it out only slightly.
    Step 2: Put it on your head under your helmet.
    Step 3: Ride! Your head has just become a mobile air conditioner for your entire body.

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    Kt July 27, 2009 at 2:46 pm

    +1 on freezing your water bottles. And on the wet towel around your neck thing.

    Yeah, 90 is pretty warm– the problem is when it gets up to and above 100 like it’s supposed to do on Tuesday and Wednesday, with the humidity we’re supposed to get.

    100 is fine if it’s a dry heat– it’s a killer when it’s a moist heat, especially to those of us wetlanders who aren’t used to it.

    Drink water!!! Lay off the sodas, they’re not good for you anyway.

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    buglas July 27, 2009 at 3:28 pm

    Most days we can just throw a leg over and go. In the heat, think a little more in terms of getting ready for an athletic event.

    * Fill your bottle(s) before heading out.
    * Pace yourself. Listen to your body and allow a little extra time.
    * Pasture Ted’s wet T-shirt recommendation is good – it’s a sort of artificial sweating that doesn’t use up your electrolytes.
    * Watch yourself when you arrive. The forward motion gives you a breeze that evaporates sweat (that’s what it’s there for!) and you may not realize how much you’re putting out. When you stop, you may be drenched pretty quickly – you’re not necessarily sweating faster, you’re probably not cooling as efficiently. Give yourself a few minutes to reach a new equilibrium.
    * Keep your eyes clear. You don’t want a stinging liquid running into them in busy traffic. Many helmets have sweat bands, or wear a cap or wipe your brow frequently with gloves or a sleeve or whatever.
    * After you’ve landed, re-hydrate. If you start getting lightheaded, or shaky, you may be low on electrolytes – consider a sports drink. If you go a long time without needing to urinate or your urine is deeply colored, drink more water.

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    Lynne July 27, 2009 at 3:55 pm

    the ice sock – get a long tube sock, fill with ice, close off the end, drape around your neck…

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    ms July 27, 2009 at 4:04 pm

    I will admit the heat does cause me to ride less. I’m not afraid of sweating, that’s part of biking. I ride less because I dislike the air quality and how the really intense heat (above 95) affects my energy levels.

    Since I work a 9-5 job, my commute home is at the hottest part of the day usually, and I have about 5.5 miles to go home. The high temps can make me feel dizzy and sickly, so I’d prefer to be safe and ride the bus on those days. Plus, it also makes me grumpy, too!

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    eljefe July 27, 2009 at 4:17 pm

    get out the clipper, shave some hair off. I just did. Helmets don’t insulate, hair does.

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    dan July 27, 2009 at 4:31 pm

    I think the whole “electrolyte replacement during exercise” thing may be a little overblown. People (many of whom are little old ladies) have spent all summer long tending crops in the tropics for centuries, and I’m pretty sure they’re not knocking back a pint of Gatorade an hour.

    I’ve bike toured in SE Asia, doing 50-80 miles most days, and drinking from 1 to 2 gallons of water a day — no sports beverages for the whole tour. I eventually noticed that my sweat wasn’t salty any more — a very odd sensation, but nice not to have the stinging in your eyes. 🙂 I did have pretty strong salt cravings, but was able to meet my needs with salty food and snacks after riding, which is way more fun than drinking Gatorade anyway.

    All of which is to say, if you have a normal Portland commute (15 miles or less), chances are that you’re not going to lose enough sodium to worry about it. If it’s really a concern for you, have some Pringles when you get home…leave the Gatorade bottles to the pros.

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    Atlanta rider July 27, 2009 at 4:34 pm

    I tune in to BikePortland to see what’s up and here’s a subject I know a little about!
    It’s not uncommon for me to ride home from work in 100+ degrees. That’s real not “feels like” temperature. Here’s my tips….
    1. Be acclimated to riding so when Summer hits you’re ready for the heat.
    2. Lycra is your friend. Get over fashion hangups.
    3.Two full water bottles are better than one. Drink often.
    4. Helmets are not hot, in fact my head is cooler under a helmet than exposed to the sun. I like the visor too. Squirt your water bottle into a top vent when you need a refresher.
    5. Shower and change clothes on arrival!

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    Joe July 27, 2009 at 5:28 pm

    what kills me the most is the smell from the autos on really hot days! same happend when i lived in Vegas. polar bottles are nice 🙂

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    Bald Chick July 27, 2009 at 7:16 pm

    I’m going thru chemo this summer. I bike to all of my appointments, but today, thank goodness my Chemo Buddy had a car and bike tray for the ride home. The heat, air quality and drugs made it unbearable.

    Being bald for the first time in 10 years of fairly serious riding, I can attest that hair is the insulator, not the helmet. Besides, with a bandana on, cool water or ice in the helmet vents is very refreshing.

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    Shawn Small July 27, 2009 at 10:41 pm

    very hot racing tonight at PIR, but the water cooled you off some and made a lot of fun slippery mud!

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    cold worker July 27, 2009 at 11:43 pm

    tonyt: i lived in minneapolis for a while and i might disagree on the sub-zero part, but i will second you if i can change my preference to cold. i’d rather ride in really cold temps than 100 degrees anyday.

    but, you know, sub-zero days were kinda fun too i suppose. they are way more metal. i’m into that.

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    Mark Allyn July 28, 2009 at 12:02 am

    Regarding helmets:

    I value my helmet not only as a means of crash protection, but as a sun block as well.

    With very little hair (bald), I am very sensitive to the sun.

    There have been some cases where I would not be on my bike, but I would wear the helmet just because of the sun blocking that it provided.

    It has prevented much sunburn discomfort.

    This is the same reason that I wear long sleeve shirts in this kind of sunlight.

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    Steve July 28, 2009 at 9:02 am

    OK, so I rode into work today (~12 miles) at Washington Park and it was ridiculously warm for 5:30a. Gonna be a heck of a ride home…but I’ll go the extra miles and travel through Forest Park, no asphalt, lots of trees and shade. Hint: Soak the padding in your helmet in water and freeze, doesn’t last long but with a water soaked bandana on your head it helps. +1 for the shaved head.

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    coyote July 28, 2009 at 9:14 am

    Tip number one – slow down. Try to expend no more energy than a slow stroll. You will still be going two or three times faster than walking which means you have much more cooling available. BTW dark colors show sweat spots much less, Khaki is about the worst, black is the best.

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    Gabe July 28, 2009 at 12:29 pm

    What I did yesterday that helped:
    1. Slowed down — worked less, since my heart is working harder to keep me cool.
    2. Kept my CamelBack knockoff full and in the fridge at work.
    3. Stuck an ice pack (had it for knee problems) in the back of my shorts.

    Today, I’m going to be adding an extra ice pack around my neck. If only they made bike shorts with freezable gel inserts or something…man oh man I would love that.

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    amy July 28, 2009 at 1:25 pm

    the wet cotton t-shirt works really well. problem is, it dried out in about 10 minutes on my ride home yesterday. so i sought out sprinklers on side streets. then i saw a guy with a hose- jackpot! he looked a little surprised when i asked him to hose me down as i passed by but happily complied. that soaking lasted the rest of my way home. and it made 2 people smile.

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    Jim O'Horo July 28, 2009 at 2:11 pm

    RE: Pasture Ted #12:

    Thanks for the great wet-shirt suggestion. Think I’ll try it out the next time I’m touring out in the desert.

    Now if we could just get Rev. Phil to run an impromptu wet t-shirt ride for the ladies – or maybe a naked fountain tour (bring sunscreen; you wouldn’t want to burn your exposed weapon!).

    RE: Mark #32:

    I too am a chrome-dome and find the helmet keeps my head much cooler. I use a white helmet to reflect sunlight and be more visible @ night. A wet do-rag under the helmet helps cooling even more.

    RE: Coyote #36:

    The downside of dark colors is that they absorb sunlight and become hotter. I’m good with dark shorts, but I try to wear a light colored jersey. Good point about visibility of stains though. Salt stains really show up bigtime on my black shorts.

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    John Russell July 28, 2009 at 3:01 pm

    (Vance #13, please remember to close your HTML tags so that they do not mess up the rest of the page)

    As expensive as it is, by at least one lightweight merino wool garment. You will not regret it. They are the most practical articles of clothing that I own, bar none. It kept me warm during the 20° weather we had this past winter, and now it keeps me cool and comfortable in this 100° weather we’re having right now. The best part of my Ibex merino wool jersey is that even when it is drenched in sweat, you can neither smell nor feel it do to the magical natural properties of the wool. It is really worth every penny. I wore it for my entire 1,000 mile bicycle tour of Washington this July, sometimes in weather as hot as this, and even after more than two weeks of riding (sans washing) it had yet to smell, although it was a bit salty.

    I hate to bring up the helmet wearing, but that’s also something that I pay quite a bit of attention to in this heat. I normally wear one of those larger BMX-style helmets, as they have more room for bumper stickers, lights, and even hood ornaments. It may seem silly, but it sure helps drivers notice me. You would be surprised how many people tell me that they noticed my helmet at stoplights and such. Regardless of the safety-related merits of wearing a helmet, it’s noticeably hotter than not wearing it, and so usually in this kind of heat, I’ll just be wearing my Shaun Deller wool cycling cap. Now, it’s not merino wool, but it sure soaks up the sweat and doesn’t smell a bit. There’s no way I would be caught without at least a cycling cap on. I don’t want those rays burning the top of my head, much less sweat running into my eyes. Whether you like helmets or not, it’s been shown that drivers give more room when passing un-helmeted cyclists, and after thousands of miles ridden both ways, I would have to agree.

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    Aurora in the Skye July 28, 2009 at 3:32 pm

    I am certainly not afraid of a little sweat (or even a lot). What gets me in this weather is the ease of heat exhaustion, headaches & dizziness that I experience OFF a bike. I tried braving it last week using many of the tips here. But, had to whimp out part-way on my 5 mile ride & hop on a bus. I had ice, soaked my hair, put on a soaking wet bandana & guzzled water. Still I succumbed to head whooshiness & had to stop a mile short of my destination.

    In weather like this I think it’s vitally important to listen to your body & not simply brave the heat for the machismo or street cred. This last week has turned me back into a bus commuter. At this rate I just might end up reaching for those car keys just to avoid further heat exhaustion. Just walking a few blocks in this heat to/from my stop was enough to make me miserable. Esp when my destination was un-air-conditioned.

    If these tips work for you, great! When the weather gets back down around 80 I’ll be using them for sure. In the mean-time I’m going to try to not pass out & to avoid another heat-induced migraine! 😉

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    fredlf July 28, 2009 at 4:03 pm

    I like to wear a bandana under my helmet, dew-rag style, which I keep damp with squirts from my water bottle. It also helps with absorbing drips before they go in my eyes.

    In general, gotta agree with the posters who say the helmet helps with cooling (and provides protection from burning my balding dome).

    Man, Vance must have had a bad nanny as a child, I’ve never run across someone who was so worried about the nanny-state.

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    Tee July 28, 2009 at 8:12 pm

    Have you heard of Misty Mates? I’m sure there are probably cheaper imitations, but I can only vouch for the misting bottle I have (the 10-ounce size). The nozzle sprays the most fine mist, which does a pretty effective job of cooling. Put a couple of ice cubes and some water in the bottle, put the lid on, pump the handle, turn the nozzle on, and off you go. I put the bottle in my basket, clip the nozzle wherever I need it…it’s pretty versatile. A bit spendy, too, but on a day like today…aaaaahhhhhhh.

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    Esther July 29, 2009 at 11:02 am

    I just rode through Salmon St. Fountain on my way from work, so that my clothes were soaking. Kept me plenty cool.

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    Karen July 30, 2009 at 8:03 pm

    Lots of good suggestions, a lot of which I have employed myself.

    I change my riding schedule when it gets really hot, and I leave for work extra-early. Sure, it means getting up earlier, but later on I have plenty of time to ride slower and cool down longer before changing clothes at work.

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